What does it take to get the Prince of Darkness to pose with flowers? What is Lars Ulrich really like in front of a camera? Following on from their eye-catching concept photoshoot with Ozzy Osbourne for our January February cover, we quizzed Herring & Herring photographers Dimitri Scheblanov and Jesper Carlsen (pictured above) about their shared love of metal, which has lead to many weird and wonderful experiences shooting some of music’s biggest legends. From creating Metallica’s glitchy Hardwired… To Self-Destruct album artwork in 2016 to plunging the Black Sabbath frontman into freezing cold water, the New York duo’s lenses have seen some iconic metal moments so far.
How did you both first get into photography?
Dimitri: “Before we started working together, my background was in art direction, so I was directing a lot of photography at agencies.”
Jesper: “I’d been working in IT for 15-16 years, then I got into photography where Dimitri was directing, he needed something else to do and I ended up meeting him at some party.”
Dimitri: “We met and talked about doing a commercial project at the time but that was before we were shooting together. Then we started getting editorials together. We did one, we did another and it was such a great feeling and we had such a lot of fun, we decided to work together exclusively after that. We were going out a lot socially, having drinks and chatting, we had a similar sense of humour right off the bat. We were looking for the same thing in terms of the final image, so our personalities clicked and we were having a brilliant time together so it made sense to go for it.”
When you started out, did you have any stylistic or photographic influences?
Dimitri: “We didn’t necessarily have any photographic influences; our whole mission was to approach every photoshoot as if it were an individual event. We were really trying not to establish a singular style like using one particular lighting setup, either shooting in just black and white or colour. We wanted to approach every shoot with a fresh perspective and to us, that was inspiring. It was a challenge but it was a way to have fun with our work.”
What music are you both into?
Jesper: “We’re both really into Metallica.”
Dimitri: “We have a variety of different things we listen to, classic rock, new wave and all sorts of stuff but we’re definitely into metal. That’s what we tend to play at photoshoots – Motörhead, AC/DC, Metallica, that kind of thing. The models might not like it that much, but we like it!”
Who was the first musician you shot?
Dimitri: “The first band we shot was Metallica but the first musician we shot was Beyoncé. When we first started out together, we were shooting exclusively fashion for about five years and it didn’t really occur to us to shoot anything else. By accident, we started working with an agent who represented Beyoncé’s creative director, they reached out to her and they said they were looking for new photographers to shoot an album. So we sent our portfolio along and 20 minutes later, we got a call that Beyoncé wanted to meet us. We ran off to the meeting, were told we were hired and a few weeks later, we shot with her. That was our first exposure to working with an artist, another creative person, which is different to shooting a model. We really enjoyed that experience so we started doing more of it and that’s when we launched our magazine where we shot Lars Ulrich. That led to shooting the band for the Hardwired… To Self-Destruct album cover a few years down the line.”
How does one tame Lars in front of the lens?
Dimitri: “The first time we went out to shoot him for our magazine, we didn’t really know what to expect because you hear and read all these things about him and his personality. To us, he was incredibly gracious and collaborative, we got on really well right off the bat. He invited us in to pick out his clothing and go through what we were doing. Of course, in the beginning there were butterflies as there always are with a well-known person whose work you admire, but that very quickly went away once we started chatting. A little while after that, we started hanging out socially and became good friends. Since then, every photoshoot is a fantastic experience and it’s more like friends hanging out and having a great day.”
Your glitchy style for Hardwired… To Self-Destruct has become synonymous with Metallica now. Where did that come from?
Dimitri: “When we first knew that we were going to be doing the album, we knew what the concept was going to be because we shot Lars’ wedding in that style. After the wedding, we knew he was into this idea and after that, we were just thinking about different colour palettes. Most of those projected images are red, black and white which we really associated with Metallica after Kill ‘Em All. It’s such a seminal album and identity for them, we see them in those colours so we wanted to make sure that was a big part of the pictures we took. Introducing other colours helped to address different emotions and get them out of the guys in the session. Our whole concept for the album cover, the interior shots and the PR images of the band’s portrait was to present them as we saw them, these old school rockstars and at the same time present them in both an idyllic way – and also a fucked-up way!”
Even the guys themselves can’t identify which facial feature is whose in that final product! How did you achieve that effect?
Dimitri: “We did one session where we took everyone’s pictures and then we’d go away and paint them, then we’d project those pictures onto their faces when they were doing the shoot so it looked like Lars projected onto James or Rob projected onto Lars. They can’t see them, they just have a light shining on them so they’re making expressions in front of it. So when they come over to the monitor to see how crazy it looked with the combination of their features, they were just cracking up and having a great time – it’s a really fun process.”
What’s the best thing about working with Metallica?
Dimitri: “What sets the Metallica guys apart from typical metal bands is that they are totally unafraid to go into different places, they’re always trying to challenge themselves and the people around them to do something fresh and different. They jumped right into it and they’re fearless, which is what we love about them.”
Metal fans are hard to please with new ideas but that cover has inspired some fans to even photoshop burgers onto the cover…
Dimitri: “It’s awesome. When all those re-imaginations of the album were coming out on Instagram, we saved all of them. It’s great, we love that stuff.”
How long did it take to organise a shoot with Ozzy Osbourne?
Dimitri: “Thankfully, we had worked with him once before for a magazine. For me personally, Ozzy and Black Sabbath are what I grew up on. We wanted to shoot Ozzy for a long time and we had a meeting with his record label offering to shoot him for a magazine but they said he doesn’t do editorial shoots, so it’s never going to happen. Thankfully, we had the experience of shooting Kelly Osbourne for our magazine which had gone really well; both she and Sharon had expressed they were very thankful for the shoot and they had fun. When we contacted them directly, Sharon said we’d shoot Ozzy, so that was a huge thing for us, we were really happy and overwhelmed. That first shoot was really fun; Jesper and Ozzy were comparing their tattoos before we were shooting, we were doing a bunch of crazy setups with Ozzy. We set up this rain set getting him wet and he was complaining he was cold, but it was fantastic, we were on cloud nine.”
What was it like shooting with him for the images we used for our January cover?
Dimitri: “It was a lot less stressful this time because we already knew he had a very short attention span. He’s a great collaborator, he’s up for , which is fantastic for us. Originally, the day was supposed to be an eight-hour shoot but we wound up finishing in four hours so it was one look after another. We had some really elaborate sets for it and he was on fire.”
How on earth did you get the Prince of Darkness to pose with water lilies?
Dimitri: “After we got him dressed, he dipped his foot in the water and shouted, ‘This water’s fucking cold! You better do this shit fast!’ He was all about it, though, he’s another one of those totally fearless guys, he loves to get dressed up, he loves to do wild stuff. What he’s wearing is a cape over a dressing gown and he said he looked like a rock ’n' roll grandma!”
Aside from musicians, who’s been the most interesting person you’ve worked with so far?
Dimitri: “[Actor] Willem Dafoe was our dream subject.”
Jesper: “It’s hard to remember that day with Willem but that concept we used fit so perfectly for him. That’s one of my favourite pictures of all time.”
Dimitri: “We go through little transitory things every year or two years and at that point, it was all about setting up surrealist images with very stylised propping. He was the perfect subject for it because he brings a lot to the set and he was excited to do weird stuff. Anytime we work with someone with a similar mindset to us winds up being the perfect shoot – Metallica, Ozzy, Willem Dafoe – your spirits and minds meet in these great pictures.”
What happens when you don’t have much time with a subject?
Dimitri: “We were hired to shoot Oprah a few years ago for a magazine cover and we were supposed to have an hour with her, but on the day of the shoot, she was stuck in a meeting so we only had half an hour. How do you tell that story in half an hour? It’s a challenge but we tried to connect with her as much as possible and try to bring her out in any way we could. That shoot felt really nice because we got a feel for who she was and saw different things in her personality that we didn’t expect.”
Have you got any plans for another metal album cover in the future?
Dimitri: “We would love to, we’re open for business. We love rock and metal and we love working with the older guys. The music that we listen to and the bands that have been around for a while. We also like working with new and young people and we get introduced to a lot of young talent when doing our magazine. It’s always interesting to hear new music and see up-and-coming acts. We’d love to shoot more music, that’s something we’re very passionate about.”
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